04 May, 2013

LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!: Bodycop, "Bodycop"

Bodycop, Bodycop [Cassette], (Fan Death, 2010)

Today we're going to discuss a band you probably haven't heard of, but might appreciate if you're into the sonic equivalent of being beaten about the head and shoulders with a folding chair. This band is, or rather was, Bodycop. They were a quintet from Washington, DC who really liked early Swans, Throbbing Gristle, go-nowhere self-loathing and possibly Side B of My War, and all of that pretty much means I'd be into them from the get-go. Now, I know almost nothing about who was in this band at all: I know there was a singer by the name of Kiki, a guitarist, a bassist, an electronics operator, and a drummer, but that's pretty much it. But what I do know is that they made some truly punishing noise, as befitting a group filled with early Swans fans. They only released this 29-minute, 5-song cassette - which I guess makes this a mini-LP? or EP? - and then broke up amid a welter of strange rumors about the reasons why. (Sometimes I think punk rockers are worse than sewing circles.)

Bodycop's music is repetitive as hell. "Sisyphus" spends nearly five minutes twisting around a lone, almost ridiculously sour and backbiting guitar riff - and that's when the guitar and bass aren't coagulating into an almost totally atonal mass of rhythmic noise that sounds like nothing so much as someone breaking up granite with a hammer. This kind of thing happens a lot on this cassette, or mini-LP, or EP, or whatever - Bodycop aren't much on tunes. But the sound is deeply compelling. "Loaves" features one or two atonal bass chords being smashed again and again for nearly 7 minutes until you feel your brains slowly melting into a puddle of muck, and "Pay Up" hammers one half-there riff into the ground for nearly 8 minutes until breaking into an absolutely pulverizing groove for the last minute. What makes this willfully noisy stringed-instrument abuse work is that it's all strictly rhythmic - there's no attempt at all to go into free time, and there's no attempt to improvise. (This might be a noise album, but it's not anything like, say, guitar-era Ramleh or Skullflower.) So the guitar and bass stay rigidly tethered at all times to the extremely powerful, often rather tom-heavy and creative drumming, and the result is an EP full of very tight and mostly atonal playing. Even Norman Westberg was more melodic than this, and to say the effect is bracing is an understatement. I hate to keep on trotting out the blunt force metaphors, but this band really is pummeling. You almost expect to lose a few teeth by the time the EP is over.

The other elements of this EP, though, are what make it so distinctive. Kiki's weirdly blank, groaning screech is often subtly fed through a harmonizer, which has the effect of making her sound both strangely processed and strangely anonymous; it's as if the rage being expressed has already lost nearly all meaning for her, but is as much a natural function as breathing. It's as if there's no choice but to feel this way, or that feeling such overwhelming rage at all times has become ingrained. Either way, it sounds like she has almost no emotional investment or payoff in her rage. It just exists on an even level, a pure, dead, amplified hum. Her screaming is fairly odd and unique - I don't think I've ever heard another singer like her, and I've heard a lot of angry screamers at this point - and coupled with the completely oblivious, gurgling, deadening, mindless electronics that smother every song on the EP, the overall effect is pretty unsettling.

Overall, Bodycop is one of those bands where I really wish they'd stuck around long enough to record a proper album or two - they might not have felt like they could have developed any further, but with such a devolved, degraded, and individual sound in place already, who knows what depths or heights they could have explored? Or what they could have evolved into? Anyway, I've always found it somewhat futile at best to speculate on what if's with a band, and what exists here is the EP, and that's enough. If you've been having a really, really, really terrible day, this band makes for one hell of a soundtrack, and I get a real kick out of hearing Kiki bellowing "Liar! Liar! Liar!" again and again on the last song here even when the sun is shining and it's a beautifully optimistic spring day. After all, as Woody Allen said, the heart wants what the heart wants. And sometimes the heart wants nothing more than abusive sensory overload, even during warm spring days.

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